Plaxo to Throttle Back the Emails

According to Techdirt, the email loving folks at Plaxo may finally be bending to the collective will and reassessing their email policies.

I regularly get emails via Plaxo telling me that people I know and sometimes people I don’t are updating their address book and encouraging me to update my information via Plaxo. It’s an example of an idea that sounds good in theory (let’s enable users to easily obtain current contact information and add it to their Outlook contacts list) that goes horribly wrong when put into action.

It goes wrong simply because the updating process is based on unsolicited emails to contacts asking them to update their information via Plaxo. I think it’s great if someone wants to add my information to their address book, but not if I have to get emails I don’t want and/or sign up or give information to some service.

After apparently waiting to enact any changes until enough people signed up for their service, Plaxo has indicated that it will throttle back the emails. Here’s a quote from one of Plaxo’s founders that tells you a lot about Plaxo’s commitment to being a good net citizen:

[W]e’ve always known that the update requests were a means to an end — our goal has always been to get as many members as possible so that these e-mails were unnecessary. And it looks like we’re finally getting to that end.

Anyone who takes even a second to think about that statement will realize that it’s like a litterbug who just dumped all his trash on the side of the road saying that littering is bad. Or the guy who just made a ton of money selling email addresses deciding to become an anti-spam advocate.

It’s easy to diet when you’re full and it’s easy to act right after you’ve gotten the spoils of acting wrong.

According to some of the Comments to the Techdirt post, Plaxo is now bundled with AOL Instant Messenger. There’s nothing that will get a program deleted from my computer any faster than trying to stuff a bunch of unwanted programs onto my hard drive.

I find product bundling to be just as distasteful as spam. That’s just my opinion and perhaps others disagree.

But while less Plaxo email is a welcome thing, let’s not start handing out citizenship awards to Plaxo just yet.

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Bug or Feature: Microsoft Spyware Disables NAV

It seems that Microsoft’s AntiSpyware program is identifying Norton Antivirus as spyware and disabling it. Everybody is all up in arms saying that this is a terrible bug that must be immediately fixed.

Are we certain it’s not a feature? For all the reasons I mentioned the other day, Norton Antivirus has crossed the line from important safeguard to some combination of bloatware and adware. Much of my hatorade for Norton Antivirus is a result of the inclusion of the Norton Protection Center in the new version, but Norton Antivirus has long been known for creating conflicts with other programs and causing shutdown problems in Windows.

Plus, a lot of the current Norton stuff seems more interested in selling you new products than protecting you from harm.

Obviously, I am (mostly) kidding when I describe this as a feature. But of all the programs on all the computers in all the world, none has less standing to complain about conflicts caused by another program than Norton Antivirus.

Norton Antivirus complaining of a conflict creating program? As my daughters would say “I know you are, but what am I?”

Dell and Google in Bloatware Venture


I know it’s hard to believe after my spit take on the new Google internets and my resounding yawn in the face of Gmail chatting, but in general I really like Google. Or at least I did until it started spending billions on stupid ideas.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let me tell you the other reason why I think this new Dell/Google deal to get Google software pre-installed on new Dell computers is bad news. Henry Blodget has already covered the financial side of things.

It’s bad news because the very last thing in the world- and I mean the very last thing- Dell needs to do is pre-install more bloatware on its computers. There are far too many trial versions and thinly disguised ads on new Dells now. Dell has been criticized for this before. In fact, excessive bloatware is one of the reasons I stopped buying Dells (and other brands) and started building my own computers.

Here are a couple of rules that should be mandatory for every computer manufacturer:

1) Except for a very few major things like anti-virus and anti-spyware programs, don’t pre-install any trial versions or other disguised ads on new computers. Either give us a the full, non-crippled, non-expiring version of something or don’t give us anything. No one believes this is anything other than a disguised ad.

2) Other than an internet browser, don’t pre-install anything that we can download for free off the internet. I probably don’t want that stuff and it’s easier to add what I want than to remove a ton of bloatware. This applies to the Google software that will be stuffed down our throats under this new arrangement.

I use and love the Google Toolbar. But I prefer X-1 (even though I have to pay for it) over Google’s desktop search. And just because Google will pay Dell to pre-install a bunch of junk that third party vendors pay Google to include in the bloatware package doesn’t mean it should be stuffed onto my new computer.

Everybody gets paid in this caper except for the person who pays for the computer. He or she has to either spend hours removing or pay some computer geek to remove all the stuff he or she doesn’t want. It’s an entire industry designed to screw over computer buyers in the name of a few dollars. Anyone who thinks this is about helping the consumer is living in Google fantasy land.

And don’t even get me started about the Google Pack. If I want that stuff (most of which I most definitely don’t), I’ll go get it. Do not pre-install any of that stuff on my computer. None of it.

The Dell/Google deal is a bad idea for Google (too expensive) and for consumers (even more bloatware). Dell, of course, makes out like a bandit, but at the expense of its customers.

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Plaxo Wars: The Commenters Strike Back

I came across a very interesting discussion via a post and link on Mathew Ingram’s blog about Plaxo, the ubiquitous sender of emails offering you the chance to update your contact information. These are usually sent by someone I barely know, if I know them at all.

It all started (as best I can tell) when Charles O’Donnell, who works with Fred Wilson (a smart guy I like a lot) at Union Square Ventures, sent out one of those Plaxo emails and then blogged about it. Charles’ point was that he gets people to respond to his Plaxo update requests by adding humor to the request. Although I will probably never respond to another Plaxo update request (I confess to having done so a few times in the past), a funny request would raise the chance of a response from say 0% to maybe 0.2%. So my take is that I’m not going to reply, but it doesn’t twist me off to get a request from someone who I know or who knows me.

Then Michael Arrington posts a negative comment about Plaxo in a comment to Charles’ post, makes a corresponding post on TechCrunch and all hell breaks loose.

First of all, even though I am no Plaxo fan, I think Mike was a little too hard on Charles. But a spirited debate is always interesting and sometime informative and a spirited debate ensued in the comments to Mike’s post.

Charles’ day went from bad to worse when Stacy Martin, Plaxo Privacy Officer (Plaxo Privacy Officer should go into the job name hall of fame on the first ballot), joined the discussion. First she and Mike engaged in a little semi-constructive banter, then she turned on Charles and said that he violated Plaxo’s terms of service. Somehow, I have a hard time buying that it’s up to Charles to make sure Plaxo doesn’t allow Charles to spam Mike. Even if Charles were a spammer instead of a (probably former now) Plaxo user, Plaxo should never let the foxes guard the hen house.

Steve McFarland, as quoted in Mathew’s post, summed it all up thusly:

Plaxo, is like that senior citizen in the middle lane of the highway going 40 or the teenager that waltzes right past you to the front of the line at the coffee shop – they’ll never understand what it is they’re doing that’s so damn annoying because they. just. can’t.

Mathew points to another spirited debate involving Mike, Stacy and others, about Plaxo in the comments to a post Scoble made months ago about getting a tour of the Plaxo facilities. As an aside, Scoble says most of the Plaxo team shares a single room, but he did not say whether they call it the boiler room or not.

These are not the only examples of Plaxo frustration. Many others have posted rants about Plaxo.

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The Sad Tragic Death of Norton Utilities

Get out your crying towels, because I’m going to tell you a sad story.

Way back in the days of DOS there was this great suite of programs created by a genius named Peter Norton. They were called Norton Utilities. These programs helped maintain your computer by diagnosing and fixing problems and defragmenting the hard drive. The suite also included a disk editor, which I used all the time. In sum, most computer experts used Norton Utilities all the time back in the day.


In 1990 Norton sold his products, including Norton Utilities, to Symantec. Symantec kept the Norton brand and issued new versions of Norton Utilities and released new programs under the well respected Norton name, including Norton Antivirus. I used Norton Utilities up until Windows XP and still use Norton Antivirus. But that’s about to change, for three reasons.

Reason Number One: Conflicts and Resource Hogging

Symantec continues to load too many features into both Norton Utilities and Norton Antivirus that I don’t need and that I don’t want. Both programs have been notorious for years for creating conflicts with other programs and for causing startup and shutdown problems. All of that is irritating, but, given my historical loyalty to the Norton brand, I have thus far overlooked these problems. In the newest version of Norton Antivirus, however, Symantec has added the incredibly annoying Norton Protection Center. This bloatware takes up system tray space and generally seems to be yet another unnecessary resource hog. I don’t want this program, and if I’d known about it before I installed the new version, I would have taken the box back and found another antivirus program. After spending 10 minutes on the net trying unsuccessfully to find out how to remove or disable Norton Protection Center, I gave up and uninstalled Norton Antivirus completely. Simple is better, and with this unwelcome addition, Symantec has finally waddled across the bloatware line.

Reason Number Two: Shameless Upselling

Not only is the Norton Protection Center a blight on my computer in and of itself, it also seems to be nothing more than a thinly disguised ad for other Symantec products. C|Net had this to say about the Norton Protection Center:

[W]ith this year’s debut of the Norton Protection Center, Norton AntiVirus 2006 has lost that uncluttered usability. The Norton Protection Center appears both as a separate icon in the system tray as well as a separate window within the software’s control console. Most of the Protection Center’s functions are useful, such as the alerts it sends if you don’t have the latest virus definitions or haven’t run a system scan in a while and the bar graph in the Status window. However the Protection Center is focused on upselling Symantec’s other products to you rather than providing any new, useful security information. For instance, if you ask to learn more about data recovery, you’re taken directly to the Norton SystemWorks 2006 product page on Symantec’s Web site.

Reason Number Three: Rootkit, Round 2

eWeek reported yesterday that, on the heels of the Sony rootkit fiasco, Symantec has admitted using a rootkit-type feature in Norton SystemWorks that could provide the perfect hiding place for attackers to place malicious files on computers. Symantec, of all people, should know better than this.

It took 15 years, but Symantec has managed to ruin what was once a great set of utilities. I am in the market for a new antivirus program and would love some suggestions in the Comments.

If you want to see more neat old ads like the one above, check out this page.

Digital Music Update

The other day, when I was discussing the vast and unnecessary limitations that online music sellers place on downloaded music files via DRM, I decided to cancel my Rhapsody subscription because (a) Rhapsody is now owned by RealNetworks, maker of Real Player, that bloated and computer hogging software that I detest, and (b) there is a new version of Rhapsody that allows you to buy DRM infested downloadable music files. Previously, Rhapsody was a burn to CD only service (you ended up with CDs and not DRM infested music files).

Well, when I logged onto Rhapsody to cancel, I was quickly reminded of why I avoid RealNetworks software like the plague. When I finally found the page describing how to cancel your account, I found this little jewel:


So, even though you can sign up, upgrade and buy music online, to cancel you are forced to call a telephone number and speak to someone. And of course the telephone number only works during business hours. I remember having the exact same problem in the past when trying to cancel RealNetworks services.

I’ll call on Tuesday. And I’ll vote with my keyboard and my wallet. No RealNetwork products. Not now, not ever.

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